Fashioning Political Identity: William Garret’s Cockade
A rare example of a surviving election cockade, worn by Newcastle stationer and collector William Garret in the Newcastle election of 1820, highlights how material culture could promote active engagement with the political process.

Fashioned out of ribbons associated with two different candidates in the election, the cockade is preserved in Garret’s collection of printed materials generated by the election. On the facing page, Garret writes: ‘These are the identical Ribbons which were worn as a Cockade by William Garret during the Newcastle Election in 1820. Pink for Sir Matthew White Ridley, B[arone]t. and Blue and White for William Scott Esq[ui]r[e].’. Garret continues: ‘Mark !!! W.[illiam] G.[arret] purchased the Pink Ribbon himself at Mrs. Bilbie’s in Pilgrim Street’. Garret’s comments convey a strong sense of personal pride in the construction of his cockade, emphasizing how he purchased one of its ribbons from the shop of Newcastle milliner Ann Bilbie.

Garret’s cockade and comments show how material culture could be used to actively express political identity and voting intentions – and to try to influence others. The combination of Ridley and Scott ribbons in the cockade also reflects the voting possibilities presented by the fact that, like most English constituencies of the period, Newcastle elected two MPs, allowing individual voters to support a particular combination of candidates. The poll book for the election records that Garret did vote for Ridley and Scott; ribbons and cockades were also seen, worn, made, collected, and sold by non-voters (like Ann Bilbie), affording a means of wider electoral involvement.

‘The Cockade worn by William Garret at The Newcastle Election in 1820’ in 'A Collection of Papers, Speeches, &c. &c. Delivered at the Newcastle Election, 1820. Collected by William Garret' (1820), Newcastle City Library, L324/N536